Steve Jobs died last week, leaving behind a legacy few CEOs can match. He founded Apple in his garage with Steve Wozniak, helping to usher in the home computing age. He was ousted in 1985, and the company began to falter. He was brought back in as CEO in 1997, and he piloted the company back from the brink of collapse. (Michael Dell once famously said at a public event that Apple should be dissolved and sold off. The founder of fucking DELL.) Since then, Apple made a turnaround that “astonishing” doesn’t begin to describe. They went from a joke in the tech world to the zeitgeist of popular culture, and are neck-and-neck with Exxon as the most valuable publicly traded company. Much of it can be owed to Jobs’ leadership and ability to predict trends, if not outright define them. You may disagree with things Jobs did as CEO, or products Apple produced while he was there, but his impact and influence cannot be denied. He was arguably one of the greatest company leaders to have ever lived.
Then, Monday morning, we got an example of the other side of the coin.
Reed “I Just Type Without Looking” Hastings – whose company, Netflix, caught no small amount of flack for raising prices out of the blue, then announcing their DVD service was splitting from the main group to form a new company, the unfortunately-named Qwikster – posted yet again, and the Mea Culpa Express made a shocking stop:
Yeah, that whole Qwikster business? That whole thing where ANOTHER GODDAMN COMPANY was formed so quickly they couldn’t even lock down the Twitter handle? That second company that was so necessary to their business model going forward? Yeah. Not happening anymore. Everything’s staying on Netflix. So, to everyone who ordered a Qwikster t-shirt, you’ll both get refunds.
Now, this SHOULD be good news. The Qwikster Gambit was a shitty move from an already desperate-sounding company, and leaving everything on one site just makes everyone’s life easier. But my disappointment with the announcement isn’t rooted in whether it’s a better business move, because it definitely is. Why I’m disappointed is that the announcement took an already-wounded PR image and kicked it squarely in the testicles. With steel-toed boots.
Really, what opinion can anyone now have of Netflix apart from, “Are retarded chimps running this company?” For a business that once traded at around $300 per share to now be worth just above $100 per within three months is crazy, and the moves they made to save face made shit even worse. They couldn’t leave well enough alone: I think it was Slate that compared the continual chain of apologies and left turns in strategy to Favreau’s character’s multiple phone calls to that girl’s answering machine in Swingers, and I think it’s an apt metaphor.
Even if I thought splitting Netflix into two was an asinine move (and I did), I would at least respect them if they followed through. If it didn’t work out, OK, you tried and, despite all logic, you stuck with your convictions. But pulling the plans only a month later, and before the new company even launched, smacks of desperation and a lack of foresight. No one at Netflix seemed to think that Qwikster would be widely seen as ridiculous, and then no one there thought afterward that scrapping it all in four weeks would seem even ridiculouser.
If I can make one prediction from all this, it’s that, because Netflix is publicly traded, there are shareholders to answer to, and they may demand Reed Hastings step down. Even if they consider this retraction a positive step, we’re still looking at leadership that tanked a once-bulletproof company’s stock price, and someone’s gotta pay. Might as well be the guy who keeps writing blog posts every month announcing sweeping, capricious changes without regard to how stupid it makes both him and his company look.
As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the pink slip. Hopefully.